I love the nothingness of the desert. And the everythingness.
At first glance the desert is a monochromatic wasteland, dry, desolate and devoid of life. On closer inspection it is dry, desolate and devoid of life - but it is a kaleidoscope of colour and landscapes. A desert of basalt, a desert of quartz and a desert of chalk.
The desert is such a welcome relief from the madness of Egyptian cities. Here we exchange constant noise for silence, relentless traffic for "spot the car", and hectic pace for relaxation. You can think out here. You can breathe out here.
We spent yesterday in 4WD's exploring the western desert out of Bahariya (about 360km SW of Cairo). What a blast!!
First stop, The Black Desert. It derives its curious name from the hundreds of little extinct volcanoes that dot the landscape. Eroded basalt hills blend with the ubiquitous sand to create a two-tone effect like shot-silk or taffetta. I can imagine Im standing on the surface of the moon. It is both beautiful and eerie.
We then pulled up at a "cafeteria", which was more like a mexican cantina out of a spaghetti western, complete with tumbleweed blowing across the sand. But the food belied the meagre facilities. It never ceases to amaze me what the Egyptians can do with creamed cheese and tinned fava beans. Again delicious.
In the afternoon we headed out to Crystal Mountain, made of quartz, with millions of little crystals scattered through the sand. By this time the sun was blanketted behind a screen of dust from the encroaching dust storm, but I can imagine this place would sparkle on a clear day.
After that it became a bit "on the truck - off the truck" as we stopped at various points of interest throughout the White Desert. Here mountains of chalk pushed their way through the sand. The chalk formations are spectacular - we walked through the "garden of mushrooms", had an early encounter with the easter bunny, and pondered life's eternal question: was it the chicken or egg that came first? (you need to see the attached photos to get this).
We were meant to make camp in the White Desert under the stars tonight, but the wind had whipped up badly, and sand-blasted body parts wasnt anyones idea of fun, so we sought refuge back at the cafeteria. Judging from the howling wind and sand that lashed the building all night, it was a good choice!
We returned to Cairo about 4pm to witness hundreds of thousands of people making their way to Tahrir Square for the Friday demonstration. People of all ages waved Egyptian flags, wore top-hats in Egyptian colours and carried all sorts of Egyptian coloured stuff. It was a carnival atmosphere, like heading to a footy match with a home ground advantage. As we came over a bridge and caught a glimpse of Tahrir Square, the number of people we saw was staggering - reportedly 2 million people (think the whole state of SA)!!!!! The largest since the Revolution. As much as I would have loved to have gone down to stand amongst a history making event, we gave it a wide berth.
That brings the Intrepid Tour leg of my journey through Egypt to an end. Im back in Cairo today before heading out to Siwa Oasis, on my own, tomorrow. As much as I have enjoyed the tour, I am really looking forward to some real sit-by-the-pool down-time and some time to myself! Just what I need as I've been hit hard with a chest infection the past couple of days. Thank goodness antibiotics are available over the ciunter here!!
I will save my reflections on Egypt till the end, before I head off for Morocco. Its hard to believe Im not even half way through my journey yet!! So much more to come.